The Bandera Economic Development Corp.’s agreement to grant $37,500 to the Tractor Supply Co. in return for hiring and revenue commitments from its new Bandera store drew strenuous opposition from almost all of the speakers at a public hearing on the proposal last week.
Speaker after speaker at the Wednesday, June 12, public hearing that the EDC was required to hold on the public assistance offering said the grant was poorly thought out, was not needed or gave a competitive advantage to a giant retailer that could make it hard for some existing retailers who supply the same outdoor, agriculture-based market in Bandera to keep going.
“It’s a slap in the face to all the business owners already here,” said Bandera realtor Larry Wood who told the crowd he once worked as a manager for Tractor Supply and was not impressed by its business practices. “We have other places who could use the money better.”
Russell Hevenor, owner of Hevenor Lumber & Hardware that is among the local companies competing for dollars with Tractor Supply, said the proposed grant “may be the biggest corporate welfare project this city has ever done” and will create an unfair competitive environment for one firm over others.
Bob Grimes said he supports the idea of the EDC assisting existing businesses as they try to expand and helping new businesses come to town. But when the assistance is for a giant corporation that produces hundreds of millions of dollars in profits each year, it becomes “nothing but a gift of free money” that a national retailer does not need.
Bandera Mayor Suzanne Schauman testified as a business owner in Bandera, not as the mayor, and said she felt the EDC assistance would be more beneficial if used for existing, mom-and-pop stores in town rather than to help a major retailer like Tractor Supply.
Bandera City Council will have the final say on whether the $37,500 allocation the EDC has proposed for Tractor Supply is officially approved.
EDC President Art Crawford said the corporation was required by state regulations to hold the public hearing on the allocation because of how large it was and that it is required to report what was said at the hearing to council within 60 days so it can make a final decision.
He said residents also had an opportunity to mount a petition drive either for or against the proposed grant within 60 days of the hearing, and the results of that drive would be given to council as well.
Crawford said Tractor Supply first sought $200,000 in economic incentives from the EDC to build the outlet it now has opened on Highway 173 South near the Medina River bridge but reduced that request to $50,000 for a job training program after seeing that the larger request was not going anywhere.
The EDC, which uses a portion of the city’s sales tax revenue to promote economic improvements in Bandera, agreed on April 10 to provide $37,500 to Tractor Supply over three years if the company would commit to maintain a five, full-time and five, part-time staff at the local store, 75 percent of which would reside in Bandera County.
Tractor Supply also accepted revenue targets that would guarantee it would generate almost enough sales tax for the EDC each year to cover the incentives the corporation was proposing to provide the company.
The aid package was approved by the EDC on a 4-1 vote, with Board Member Laura Devenport voting against it.
EDC Board Member and City Councilman Tom McEachin, who proposed the incentives package that the EDC approved, defended the vote at last week’s hearing.
He said it increased the city’s tax base at a time when it needs more revenue to address pressing needs and brings in a business that fit in with the character of Bandera, all without a hefty price tag for the EDC.
Critics, however, did not accept his explanation, saying Tractor Supply since it was selling many of the same products already available in the county would not boost overall sales tax revenues and would take much of its revenue back to its corporate base in Tennessee rather than recirculating it in Bandera.
Former City Councilwoman and newly appointed EDC Board Member Toni Kunz told those at last week’s hearing that she could see the pros and the cons to providing the incentives. In the end, she concluded the funding was probably not a big issue for Tractor Supply, “but it is to our residents.”